It’s enjoyable watching the political establishment pass the Co-Op bank hand grenade, but also infuriating. It’s a parable of biblical proportions in which all the hypocrisy of current politics is embodied in one Elmer Gantry-like character, but along the way, some important principles are being trashed. Like many of my generation and background, the Co-Op has occupied a significant part in my life, but that might be about to change.
I’ve ranted before about ‘fit and proper people’, but the Reverend Flowers farrago illustrates the extent to which who you know has replaced what you know. This charismatic charlatan appears to have wheedled his way into the corridors of State and commercial power and like many before him, has used the labour movement and its values as his calling card. Nothing new here, but had he not been exposed, Flowers would have been part of the fairy-tale that tells us the people at the top are ‘the best’ and thereby justify their excessive incomes and lifestyles, while projecting an image of moral superiority that’s difficult to sustain if you’re buying crack, paying for sex, downloading porn and fiddling your expenses.
I long ago gave up on the idea that the Labour Party represents something better, but it’s sad to see the co-operative movement disappearing down the same drain. For most of my formative years, we did our weekly shop at the East Ham Co-Op (now a car park), got our milk from the Co-Op float and whole drawers were dedicated to books of dividend stamps. The ideas of the Rochdale Pioneers have travelled the world and will be remembered long after Paul Flowers, but he personifies the self-serving cynicism that has bankrupted the idea of ‘ethical banking’ and almost the Co-Op bank. Normally – increasingly – I just howl at the moon in the face of such desecration of noble ideals, but this time I have a sanction. My mum has stood by the Co-Op movement throughout her life and its bank holds a considerable amount of her money. I’m glad Alzheimer’s makes her oblivious to this latest betrayal, but I’m going to use my Power of Attorney to punish the Co-Op for letting my mum down.